Game review – Horizon Zero Dawn

Here be spoilers!

Next up in my ongoing journey through the delights of Playstation Now is 2017 RPG Horizon Zero Dawn.

There is a lot to like here. The plot is similar in scope to Mass Effect; a sweeping apocalyptic saga of survival and desperation. We get the benefit of seeing humanity’s doom play out twice. In flashbacks we learn how semi autonomous robots went rogue, populating the globe with killer machines. For the 1st half or so of the game I was intrigued to discover how people as a species managed to get out of their increasingly dire situation. It packs a powerful punch to discover that, for the most part, they didn’t. Instead a bunch of scientists hole up in a bunker to programme a super AI to reboot the planet an indeterminate number of centuries later. But the reboot doesn’t quite go to plan, and history is in danger of repeating itself.

Avatar/Heroine Aloy is everything you want in a character you’ll be inhabiting for a few dozen hours. In spite of super-sized portion of childhood rejection, Aloy reaches late adolescence as a smart, empathetic & brave young woman. Voice actor supremo Ashly Burch fully deserves the plaudits gained for her work imbuing Aloy with knowing charm and steely determination in equal measure (not that I would expect anything less from the vocal powerhouse behind Life is Strange’s Chloe). And props to Rost, raising the bar for single Dads everywhere as he raises an emotionally mature surrogate daughter, capable of compassion as well as grit.

HZD got some stick for the combat mechanics, which are admittedly on the clunky side. But for me what was more jarring is how much of the action just feels a little bit…recycled. The climbing and ziplining is deeply reminiscent of the antics of one Lara Croft. The animation for boosting a partner up a vertical incline is eerily similar to Unchartered. Sweeping the bandit camps is like being back in the realms of Far Cry. And the aesthetic of the Cauldrons bears more than a passing resemblance to the Prothean ruins of M.E. Andromeda. Or perhaps this is just sign that I play too many video games!

The HZD world is populated with diverse tribes with roots variously in Incan, Innuit and Native American communities. And whatever the Oseram are mean to be. (Oh, let’s face it, they’re the Dwarfs!) In the grand tradition of DLC campaigns both world-building and world-subverting we discover that Banuk territory The Cut is in fact Montana, USA. Which by rights means the rest of the map should be Montana as well. Hey, perhaps this actually is all a far future fan fic of Far Cry 5. That makes about as much sense as anything else.

Great game, solid plot, fabulous voice acting & some satisfying challenges. A good choice for whiling away the many lock down hours. 4/5.